Penrith face defending premiers in season opener at Panthers Stadium

Panthers forward Isaah Yeo playing against the Tigers in the pre-season. Photo: Megan Dunn.
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The Panthers face perhaps the toughest round one opponent of any team this opening weekend of the Telstra Premiership, taking on a Roosters side fresh from a World Club Challenge victory and with ‘three-peat’ very much in their thinking.

But perhaps there is no better time to face Trent Robinson’s side, which, as it happens, lost their round one encounters in both their 2018 and 2019 premiership seasons.

And there is something to be said for what’s been a very settled pre-season for Penrith, versus the premiership celebrations and trip to England for the Roosters.

There’s plenty of question marks over the Roosters this season and their quest for a third straight premiership, especially with Latrell Mitchell and Cooper Cronk no longer forming part of the dream team that has been almost unstoppable over the past two seasons.

While the Roosters will most likely be there when the whips are cracking, there’s a chance it’ll take some time before things start to click into gear in the post-Cronk era.

After a disappointing start to the 2019 season, which ultimately cost the side a Finals berth, Penrith will be keen to kick-off the season with a victory at Panthers Stadium this Saturday night.

Nathan Cleary. Photo: Megan Dunn.

All eyes will be on the new halves pairing of Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary. It has been a combination in waiting for so long now, and finally this Saturday we get to see it in its full form, with lots of anticipation around what these two guys could do this season.

But while that’s where the headlines will be surrounding this game, it’s the battle of the forwards that most entices.

While a clash between Viliame Kikau and Boyd Cordner promised to be mouth-watering, Roosters coach Trent Robinson has opted to leave Cordner out of the side for this opening weekend.

That leaves Kikau to potentially run wild on the left-side of the field. He opens up so many opportunities with his powerful running and terrific fend, and he’ll be a key to Penrith winning on Saturday.

Meantime Zane Tetevano gets a start against his former club for the first time, while Liam Martin will be keen to continue his terrific form from last season.

Moses Leota in action against the Tigers. Photo: Megan Dunn.

On the other side of the fence, the Roosters offer plenty of aggression even without Cordner, thanks to Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Siosiua Taukeiaho, both of whom have the potential to lay a terrific platform for the Roosters.

There is no doubt that the Panthers are giving away experience in this one, with Ivan Cleary overseeing one of the most inexperienced squads in the NRL, and in club history, this season.

But that inexperience is countered with enthusiasm, and the likes of Brian To’o and Brent Naden had enough of an initiation last season to be ready to go in 2020 without any baggage that would usually come with a fresh rookie.

The loss of Dylan Edwards for the opening few rounds of the season is significant, and while Caleb Aekins is an adequate replacement, there is no doubt he sits in the shadow of his opposite number in James Tedesco, who tore opposition sides apart on so many occasions last season.

Dean Whare in action against the Tigers in the pre-season. Photo: Megan Dunn.

Penrith are outsiders for this game but could easily win it – they just need some of their more experienced players like James Tamou, Dean Whare, Isaah Yeo and Josh Mansour to steady the ship early. We all know that if the Roosters get themselves a first half lead, losing is a rarity.

I think Penrith can do enough here to kick-start their season in style, but it’ll be a tight affair.

Tip: Panthers by 4.

The Panthers and Roosters do battle at Panthers Stadium on Saturday, March 14 at 7.35pm.

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